Life without fiery safety Budda Baker foreign to the Arizona Cardinals
Nov 10, 2022, 7:30 PM | Updated: 9:51 pm
TEMPE — It’s hard to find anyone who means more to the Arizona Cardinals than safety Budda Baker.
Playing in 87 of the 90 available games since entering the league back in 2017, Baker has been a constant for the defense, capable of making that explosive game-changing play at any moment.
When he steps on the field, he’s fearless, throwing his body on the line and doing whatever’s possible to put his team in the best position to win.
It goes beyond game play, too, with the safety acting as one of the team’s unquestioned leaders, someone quarterback Kyler Murray would go to war with. If he’s not impressing you with his play, he’s getting your attention with his tenacity and no-quit mentality.
But for the first time since Week 4 of the 2020 season, Arizona won’t have its human missile patrolling the field, with Baker already ruled out for the team’s Week 10 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams due to an ankle injury.
And in a crucial game that could very well dictate where this team heads down the final stretch of the season, the blow couldn’t be bigger.
“We won’t be better without Budda, but that’s part of the game. Guys get nicked,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Thursday. “You can’t replace Budda, he’s having a great year. It won’t be good for us, but we’ll move on and play.”
Through nine games, Baker paces the team with 71 tackles, 10 more than Zaven Collins, who currently sits second. The safety also has a forced fumble and two passes defensed in 2022.
But like Joseph said, injuries and the NFL go hand in hand. You always have to have a backup plan, even for an iron man like Baker.
Despite Baker’s absence in the secondary, Arizona still has Jalen Thompson to lean at safety. Fresh off an extension, Thompson has shown great growth in Year 4. Entering Week 10, Thompson is third on the team in tackles to go along with 57 and also has an interception under his belt in nine starts.
Also available is Chris Banjo, who has been used more as a special teamer during his four years with the team.
“I always see myself as a professional and just being prepared. I prepare every week,” Banjo said. “For me, nothing’s different this week, I just got to come ready to play.”
“(Baker) not being on the field is definitely going to be impactful, but at the same time, it takes all 11 guys on the field to try to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish,” Banjo added.
Another option that could see his fair share of reps is Charles Washington. The safety has yet to play in 2022 after starting the season on the injured reserve with a chest injury.
This week, however, the safety was designated to return and is back practicing. He still needs to be activated ahead of the Week 10 matchup if he wants to have a shot at playing, but the designation moves him that much closer to a return.
And if the team is really in a bind, star backer Isaiah Simmons could be called upon to help fill the need. Simmons remains working with the defensive backs at practice and continues to be moved around the field.
With the loss of Baker for at least this week — head coach Kliff Kingsbury is hopeful the safety could be back as early as Week 11 — someone on the Cardinals’ sideline will need to not only step up their play but also bring that jolt of fire and passion Baker possesses on each and every play.
How the rest of the season pans out could very well depend on it.
“You watch the film this year, I think he’s playing as good as anybody at any position in the league,” Kingsbury said of Baker. “Week in and week out the effort, the hustle plays, his attention to detail, the stuff he’s doing to get us lined up on the backend, it’s just been elite.
“It’s a tough loss and tough for him, but he means a lot to this place. He’ll still be around the next couple weeks helping us out, but you can’t replace a guy like that on the field.”